TSSAA approves football, girls’ soccer plans, plus pandemic safety guidelines

The TSSAA Board of Control met Wednesday afternoon and approved contingency plan number two, with what officials are calling hybrid adjustments for the high school football season.

Option 2 assumes that the Governor’s State of Emergency Order due to the pandemic is lifted as currently scheduled on August 29th, and calls for an eight-game regular season, with a 16-team playoff bracket that would see only Region winners and runners-up advance to the postseason. Under this plan, any team that does not make the playoffs would be allowed to schedule up to two additional regular season games to round out their ten-game slates. This option also calls for schools to scrap their existing schedules, which will be replaced by a TSSAA-generated schedule focusing on Region games. If the order is allowed to expire on August 29th, contact practice can resume the following day, and the regular season will begin on September 18th.

The so-called hybrid adjustment puts in place contingency plans in the event that either TSSAA gets an exemption from the Governor’s order, or if the order is lifted prior to August 29th. Those contingencies are as follows:

  • If teams cannot have contact practice by August 3: the first week of the season will be missed, any region games will be rescheduled.
  • If teams cannot have contact practice by August 10: the second week of the season will be missed, any region games will be rescheduled.
  • If teams cannot have contact practice by August 17: the third week of the season will be missed, any region games will be rescheduled.
  • If team cannot practice by August 24: the fourth week of the season will be missed, any region games will be rescheduled.
  • If teams cannot have contact practice by August 31: The Board of Control will meet again to discuss further plans.

The Board of Control also approved a contingency plan for girls’ soccer in case the State of Emergency order is still in effect on August 29th. If that is the case, the regular season would start on September 7th, and be extended by two weeks, with the state championships taking place November 11th through the 14th.

If the state of emergency ends before August 10th, though, the girls’ soccer season and championships will proceed as usual with no changes.

Additionally, the Board of Control approved a set of regulations for teams to follow not only during the fall sports season, but for the remainder of this pandemic. Those guidelines include temperature checks, mandatory COVID-19 screenings at least once a week, and a ban on scrimmages, jamborees, 7-on-7, or other types of practices with other teams.

  • Temperature checks are needed for all player/coaches/personnel before practice. A temperature above 100.4 sends the person in question home, they can’t return until getting a negative COVID-19 test or a doctor’s note.
  • No coach/player/personnel can compete in a contest or practice without going through COVID-19 screening. Focus for these will be weekly. Standard COVID-19 symptoms.
  • No scrimmages, jamborees, 7-on-7 or other types of practices with other teams. Only official contests. Off-season practice for other sports must remain non-contact
  • At contests: coaches, players, team personnel, officials, administrators and fans must have their temperature checked before entering the facility. If they have a temperature about 100.4 degrees, they will be turned away.
  • At each contest, a symptom checklist shall be posted prominently for spectators. 
  • At contests where fan attendance is permitted, member schools are encouraged to limit fan attendance to a number that will allow for adequate social distancing. (ex. 1/4, 1/3 of capacity)
  • Member schools will require that all fans wear facial coverings at all times while on-site (except children under age 2) and maintain social distancing
  • Temperature checks and symptom questionnaire applies to members of school band, pep band and cheerleaders
  • If there is a public address system used, the host school will make announcements, reminding spectators about physical distancing.
  • Host school is responsible for providing staff to frequently clean and sanitize areas.
  • Concessions stands are discouraged. This is not a mandate, but if concession stands are done, they recommend social distancing, masks and call-in orders
  • All coaches must complete the free NFHS online course “COVID-19 for Coaches and Administrators” before the first contest.

Right now on our website, you can read an article submitted by TSSAA explaining the decisions made Wednesday in greater detail.

(TSSAA) Tennessee now has a roadmap for both high school football and girls’ soccer in the fall.

Convening its Board of Control Wednesday in Murfreesboro, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) approved measures to outline the potential for a nearly complete football and girls’ soccer season.

The league also adopted unanimously its COVID-19 guidelines and procedures required of all member institutions who wish to compete in all athletics in the 2020-21 calendar school year.

A full copy of the regulations and fall sports rules modifications can be found on the TSSAA website.

The regulations and guidelines the Board passed today go into effect immediately for all sports,” said Bernard Childress, Executive Director of the TSSAA. “We’re hopeful that the prohibition on contact sports will be lifted before August 29, but if it’s not, the Board of Control has put some policies in place to help keep our kids and communities safe and lay out a roadmap to the start of our football and girls’ soccer seasons.”

What the association does not yet have is an exact start date for competitions. The reasoning there is fairly straightforward: Tennessee high schools and their athletics programs, as well as myriad other entities, cannot begin practices and/or games in contact sports under Gov. Bill Lee’s current State of Emergency Order. Executive Order No. 50 promotes “social distancing and avoidance of large gatherings” and limits activities in contact sports.

We are working hand-in-hand with the Governor’s Office,” Childress said. “Everything presented today has been vetted by the Governor’s Office, agreed upon by their legal counsel and by our legal counsel.

The governor’s (executive order) is still in place. We cannot do anything right now other than weightlifting, conditioning, heat acclimation periods with no contact. This is not TSSAA vs. the Governor’s Office. Everything has been a joint effort and we are not in conflict. Our goal is to have an ordinary season as much as possible.”

For football’s “Option 2 Hybrid” plan, the state preserves the potential for an 10-game regular season and full playoff format, but also lays the groundwork for what could become an eight-game season with a reduced playoff field for Division I.

The plan perhaps is most succinctly summarized as thus: Once the state of Tennessee reaches the date of August 4 and the governor’s executive order declaring a State of Emergency still stands, region games originally scheduled for Week 1 of the prep football season will be moved to later, common dates that TSSAA already has modeled. As each week passes where no contact is allowed, the next week’s region games are rescheduled.

For Greg McCullough, Memphis Central principal and TSSAA Board of Control vice president, keeping schools’ schedules nearly intact was a strong positive. The original Plan 2, as conceived, would have gutted all schedules statewide and left coaches scrambling to fill multiple open dates.

Just my personal opinion, but having lived that scheduling nightmare already, this makes sense to me, but it needs to be explained well to coaches. This allows a better option for all schools and gives a chance for schools to play as many games as they can possibly get.”

Now, with a vote on the Option 2 Hybrid, there is a potential start date in place and a plan for the season to begin as early as Aug. 21 or as late as Sept. 18.

The TSSAA already had modeled how it would handle the potentially affected region games slated for the original opening week of the season with the following example:

William Blount and Maryville High School are scheduled to play each other at the onset of the season; both teams have non-region games in Week 7. The Govs are set to play Elizabethton while Maryville is scheduled to face Knoxville powerhouse Fulton. Maryville and William Blount, under the Option 2 Hybrid, would then face each other Week 7. Elizabethton and Fulton could work to play each other, find another game or have an open date. Only region games are mandatory.

“As of this past Monday, football teams were permitted to begin their heat acclimatization, which can be done without contact,” said Richard McWhirter, TSSAA Assistant Executive Director. “Understanding though, that heat acclimatization is ‘per athlete,’ I recommend that schools get students’ acclimatization done as soon as possible. Athletes that have completed acclimatized by the time the contact order is lifted are then ready to begin full contact practice.”

The board also tackled how to handle a COVID-19 breakout as it pertains to competition in both the regular and postseason. A regular-season game becomes a win for seeding purposes if the opposing team can’t play due to COVID-19, but the team struck with illness would receive neither a win nor a loss. If both teams confront outbreaks of the virus, it is considered a “no-contest.”

Additionally, for all sports and not merely the upcoming fall divisions of cross country, golf, volleyball, football and girls’ soccer, the TSSAA and its board voted unanimously to allow students whose school systems are beginning with remote instruction to still be allowed as full participants in all sports.

On the girls’ soccer front, in an effort to maximize the number of games and opportunities for competition, the TSSAA adopted a measure to begin the season September 7 — if Gov. Lee’s order is lifted after its current August 29 expiration date — with a regular season spanning eight weeks from beginning to end and championships set for Nov. 11-14. If the order is lifted prior to Aug. 10, the season and championships will proceed as usual with no changes.

Additionally, the organization voted to allow girls’ soccer teams that either do not qualify for postseason or which are eliminated prior to the championships to schedule additional games, up to the maximum number, in order to achieve a full season of competition. This builds in some flexibility in the event multiple matches are cancelled or postponed in the season due to the virus.

This gives schools the chance for the maximum number of playing regular-season contests,” said TSSAA Assistant Director Mark Reeves. “We will continue allowing schools to play regular-season games even after eliminated or failing to qualify for the postseason. They are not to exceed that number (10) but at least they have the opportunity to get to it.”

See the complete sports regulations, rules modifications and contingency plans on the Tennessee Returns To Play page at www.TSSAA.org.

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:20 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, his mother-in-law and cats Lucius and Oliver.

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